After finishing atop the Western Conference regular season standings, Sporting Kansas City will look to punctuate an unprecedented 2020 campaign by winning silverware on Major League Soccer's greatest stage. The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs will see Sporting join an expanded field of 18 clubs, all of which have their sights firmly set on hoisting the MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
In order to claim the ultimate prize, Sporting Kansas City must navigate a single-elimination bracket packed with in-form teams. The first step is a Round One showdown with the No. 8 seed San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, Nov. 22, at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. CT with live coverage on FS1 and FOX Deportes and tickets available at SeatGeek.com (general public on-sale begins Nov. 12 at noon CT).
As postseason anticipation continues to build, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 12-day countdown to the club's opening playoff match, offering a comprehensive preview of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. From key storylines and positional breakdowns to history lessons and community initiatives, our Countdown to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will highlight the many reasons to be pumped for Sporting’s pursuit of another MLS Cup title. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/playoffcountdown.
Major League Soccer announced today its three finalists for the 2020 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year. Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes is not on the list.
In fact, Vermes has never won an MLS Coach of the Year award.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The longest tenured manager in MLS history—someone with four major championships since 2012, with four first-place conference finishes and nine playoff appearances in the last 10 seasons, with the fifth-most wins in MLS history, with more games coached for a single club than anyone else in the league—has never been tabbed MLS Coach of the Year.
Keep letting that sink in.
Vermes' resume over the last decade speaks for itself. In addition to winning the 2013 MLS Cup and three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles, he has become the first coach to lead one club to nine playoff appearances and has double the number of first-place conference finishes (four) compared to any other coach since 2011. In many ways, managers are remembered for their success—Vermes checks that box—and their longevity. No other MLS coach has a longer tenure at one team than Vermes' 12-year stint in Kansas City.
But what about 2020 specifically? At the start of the year, this was billed as a critically important campaign for a Sporting side that saw its club-record eight-year playoff streak come to an end in 2019.
Well, consider 2020 an emphatic return to normalcy for Vermes and Sporting.
First and foremost, Vermes' has side secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference heading into the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. The club's 12-6-3 record yielded a final tally of 1.86 points per game, the highest in Kansas City's 25-year history.
SPORTING KC: MOST POINTS PER GAME IN CLUB HISTORY
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|2012||63||34||1.853||Lost in Conference Semifinals|
|2018||62||34||1.824||Lost in Conference Finals|
|2000||57||32||1.781||Won MLS Cup|
|2013||58||34||1.706||Won MLS Cup|
Perhaps more impressively, however, Vermes has orchestrated arguably the greatest year-over-year turnaround that Major League Soccer has ever seen.
In 2019, Sporting finished 11th in the Western Conference and 21st in the Supporters' Shield standings. The club missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when it was still known as the Kansas City Wizards.
Over the course of 2020, however, what happened in 2019 looked more and more like an aberration.
Bolstered by a balanced attack and a steadily improving defense, Sporting has vaulted from 11th to first in the West and 21st to third in the Supporters' Shield table. Both of those jumps are the largest year-over-year improvements in MLS history.
LARGEST JUMPS IN SUPPORTERS' SHIELD STANDINGS
(YEAR-OVER-YEAR, MLS ALL-TIME)
|18||Sporting Kansas City||2019 to 2020||21st to 3rd|
|17||Colorado Rapids||2015 to 2016||19th to 2nd|
|17||Chicago Fire||2016 to 2017||20th to 3rd|
|17||Orlando City SC||2019 to 2020||22nd to 5th|
|16||D.C. United||2013 to 2014||19th to 3rd|
|16||Columbus Crew SC||2019 to 2020||20th to 4th|
Indeed, the 2020 MLS campaign—in its abbreviated and unprecedented form—marked a major bounce-back for Vermes and Sporting. It took just 21 games this year for the club to hit 12 wins, two more than its total from the 34-game campaign in 2019.
Sporting's momentous uptick was a fitting reward for the adversity and unpredictability that players and coaches faced over the course of the year. The 2020 regular season had the earliest start date on Feb. 29, the latest end date on Nov. 8, and required clubs to start and stop no less than three times in between. That's not to mention the fact that Vermes has had to cope with injuries to key contributors such as Designated Player Felipe Gutierrez—who was out for the year—Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Alan Pulido and others.
"Unfortunately, the year didn’t go as planned but we stayed the course and we stayed true to who we are," Vermes said after Sunday's Decision Day win over Real Salt Lake, referring to the challenges brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We remained loyal and committed to our culture and we believed," he continued. "This has been a tough year, but for us to be able to achieve first place in the West based on the circumstances, it was incredibly difficult. And then when things changed to points per game and then we had games cancelled, it’s easy for the guys to have mentally checked out in certain situations. They found a way each time."
Vermes will hope that his team continues to find a way in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and if the regular season is any indication, Sporting will be an awfully tough out playing at the hallowed grounds of Children's Mercy Park.